Will the Admiral's Cup 2003 prove to be the turning point for this once prestigious event? Matthew Sheahan watches the first day of racing at Cowes

In the lead up to this year’s Admiral’s Cup there has been plenty of debate as to whether the 46 year old event could continue to be a regatta that would attract the world’s top sailors. Even if it did would the racing be of a high enough standard to warrant it’s former prestigious reputation?

The last event in 2001 was cancelled due to lack of interest and many believed such a dramatic step signaled the end for this once popular event. From the fiasco as to where the racing was going to be held and how many teams would turn up, to the concern as to whether the modern breed of IMS600s were really suitable for a series held in the often brisky conditions in the English Channel, there appeared to be more questions than answers this time around.

On the eve of the first race, the racing armada and atmosphere in Cowes Yacht Haven was a shadow of earlier years with just 16 boats forming the entire fleet. Of the eight teams, four were British leaving the overseas contingent consisting of two Spanish, a French and an Australian team. Unlike previous years, this time around the teams only consisted of two boats instead of three.

On the plus side the long list of top sailors including crews from the America’s Cup, the Volvo Ocean Race and the Olympics read like a star studded cast of accomplished sailors. If the names were anything to go by, the series had managed to attract a high calibre of crew.

With high pressure settling over the UK resulting in a flat calm in the morning, the first race, one of two inshore races, was postponed before the boats had even left the dock. Neverthless, two hours later a gentle south easterly breeze had settled in and a windward leeward style course was set in the Eastern Solent.

First away were the big boats, the 50ft plus fleet racing under IRC. Two boats in particular were talk of the town. The Reichel /Pugh designed Australian 60 footer Wild Oats with her canting keel and canard was widely tipped to be a rocket ship and yet, having not competed against many of the others in her class, there was little hard evidence to really go on.

The second of the noteworthy boats was the Spanish entry from King Juan Carlos of Spain, Bribon sailing for the Telefonica Movistar team.

Designed by Jason Kerr and previously known as Aera, this 55 footer had already proved herself to be a slippery machine in the build up to the event where her low rating caused concern among some of her competitors.

On the day and following an earlier adjustment to her handicap, she and her crew showed how serious a proposition this boat remained by winning the first two races. Considerably bigger than anything else in her class, Wild Oats sailed off the start line and over the horizon to finish the first race over eight minutes ahead in a race that only lasted for 1hour 37 minutes for the Aussies. But such a margin wasn’t enough and she lost to the Spanish by 1min 7sec.

In the IMS600 class the Spanish won again with the Rodman 42 Telefonica Movistar skippered by Pedro Campos beating the other Australian entry After Shock, another Rodman 42, by just 2 seconds on handicap. Close on her heels was Chernikeeff 4, yet another Rodman 42 skippered by Ian Walker and helmed by Ben Ainslee who managed to pull off a third.

In the second race this British team managed to score a win and in doing so launched themselves to the top of their class in the overall results for the end of the day.

With one day down and many more to go, the top three team standings saw the Spanish Telefonica team leading, the Australian Royal Prince Alfred team second and the RORC Sailability team lying third.

Sunday’s racing sees two more inshore races before the fleet then prepare for the shorter of two offshore races that starts on Monday.

All in all the 2003 Admiral’s Cup consists of 6 short inshore races, 1 long inshore, a short offshore and a long offshore race to the Wolf Rock and back. With 46% of the points awarded for just two offshore races, ultimate victory in the Admiral’s Cup could still depend largely on offshore prowess.

Two inshore races may well have been an early indication of form but there is still along way to go. But if today’s close racing was anything to go by, the struggling Admiral’s Cup might just have what it takes to light a few candles in the future.

To see the official results go to: Official Results